Saddam Hussein was a madman. Muamar Kaddafi was a lunatic. Idi Amin was stark raving crazy – deranged. Ferdinando Marcos was self-absorbed in the evil within him. Stalin was a cold-blooded killer. Augusto Pinochet was a tin pot dictator without a vision. Among all these brutes, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un might be the most calculating. His family dynasty has stared the mightiest global power in the face and come out even stronger. He appears smarter and more ruthless than his father – Kim Jong Il. It’s unclear how he stacks up against Kim IL Sung – his grandfather, the founder of the dynasty. Bottom line – King Jong Un is a rational actor.
After a year of juvenile bombast and more heat than light between Kim and Donald Trump, the latter has accepted a summit invitation from the former. The “Little Rocket Man” is going to meet the “Dotard.” I would pay anything to be a fly on that wall. That’s because Trump is a demagogue and a racist proto fascist who doesn’t – can’t – think. The man moves on instinct like a beast of prey. On the other hand, Kim is a cold and calculating Machiavellian. He’s reportedly put relatives and even his regents to death – by firing squad. And he’s only 33. With a resume like that, Trump can’t, and shouldn’t, simply wing it with Kim.
Consider this. North Korea fought the US to a draw. The North Korean dynasty has outlasted all American presidents since the armistice that ended the Korean war in 1953. Apart from the Castros of Cuba, no other anti-American family lineage has lasted this long. What’s remarkable is that the North Korean regime has survived despite biting poverty and international isolation. It partly has China to thank for having its back. Unconfirmed reports of North Koreans literally eating grass and dogs abound. But we know this – a recent defector from an elite unit was riddled with parasitic worms in his gut. That tells you North Korea can’t even feed its best and brightest. Everyone appears to be governed by fear.
And yet – and yet – North Korea has leapt to the top of the world in two strategic areas. It’s a proven power in the use of cyber weapons. It regularly hacks the most secret treasures in the West. This is a huge advantage to steal technology, military and economic secrets, and scoop classified intelligence from friends and especially foes. But it is North Korea’s nuclear and missile technology that’s a marvel – and I don’t say that to endorse it. I am simply wowed by how a pauper nation – that’s beggarly – can develop sophisticated nuclear weaponry. Not even Saddam Hussein, or Kaddafi, or even Saudi Arabia with all their oil billions have been able to cross, or approach, the nuclear threshold.
What’s clear is Kim has done what neither his father, nor his deified grandfather, were able to do – amassed a true nuclear arsenal with intercontinental ballistic missiles to strike the United States. Even more stunning is the fact that American – and Western intelligence services – completely missed the rapidity of these developments. They thought North Korea was at least a decade away from perfecting nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. The Little Rocket Man isn’t so little anymore. US military planners are reported to have contingent plans to nuke North Korea’s nukes. But methinks that’s a bluff. The damage North Korea could do to South Korea in such a conflict would be an unimaginable holocaust.
North Korea could possibly hit the US. It only needs to succeed once, even if it’s annihilated in the exchange – as it would. The North Korean regime isn’t suicidal – it’s only homicidal. That’s why I believe Kim will eat Trump’s lunch at the first ever US-North Korea presidential summit, if it actually takes place. Trump doesn’t have any viable military options. He can threaten “fire and fury” but I believe that’s the empty boast of a megalomaniacal leader. The US has to negotiate with Kim on his terms since he has the upper hand. The arsenal in his pocket is a deterrent against a US military strike.
Could wipe out
North Korea doesn’t have to nuke South Korea. It has thousands of artillery pieces that could wipe out Seoul. That’s why President Moon Jae-in of South Korea has put on a charm offensive on Kim. He’s disregarded Trump’s tough rhetoric on North Korea. Blood is thicker than water. This is my prediction. North Korea won’t denuclearise. It will keep its arsenal and agree not to develop more weapons in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, economic assistance, and an end to international isolation. Kim will play Trump.
-The writer is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua